No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
Crew Chief: Jimmy Fennig
Average Start: 19.4
Average Finish: 12.8
Races Led: 13
Laps Led: 108
% Laps Completed: 99.9
Points Finish: 5th
2010 in a Nutshell
A strong start, along with a solid finish to the year was enough for Matt Kenseth to overcome a dreadful summer stretch, that saw him go nine races without a top-10 and finish the year fifth overall. Resulting in him posting his best points finish since finishing fourth in 2007, not to mention he did all this working with three different crew chiefs.
Best-case Scenario for 2011
After being up-and-down the past few years, Matt Kenseth runs consistently up front from Daytona to Homestead, wins a couple of races along the way and makes a spirited run at his second Sprint Cup championship.
Worst-case Scenario for 2011
Matt Kenseth continues to change crew chiefs as often as a woman changes outfits in a day – he went through three last year –continues to have stretches of good weeks followed by longer periods of mediocrity, goes winless for the second straight year and misses the Chase for the second time in three seasons.
Reasons to Believe
A former Sprint Cup champion, who can still get the job done when given the proper tools…Because of his bland personality, he’s often overlooked as one of NASCAR’s better drivers, but he is…Having won a title working with Kurt Busch (2004), crew chief Jimmy Fennig knows what it takes to win a championship in the Chase Era…With the exception of a road course, Kenseth has won on every kind of track on the circuit…Will have the much-improved Ford FR9 engine underneath him for the entire season.
Reasons to Doubt
The 108 laps he led last year was his lowest total since 2001…After winning a race every year from 2002-2007, he’s gone winless twice in the past three years…Is consistent, but doesn’t run up front enough…Hard to believe the shuffling of crew chiefs will come to a halt anytime soon…Is probably the No.2 man on the Roush Fenway totem pole…Almost all of Jimmy Fennig’s success has come working on the old style car and not the CoT
Area of Strength: Intermediate Tracks
10 of Matt Kenseth’s 18 career wins have come on intermediate tracks, which is not a coincidence considering his smooth driving style and Roush Fenway’s penchant for the mile-and-a-half to two-mile tracks. It’s also worth noting, the former series champ has multiple victories at Fontana, Michigan and single wins at Texas, Charlotte and Homestead.
Area of Weakness: Road Courses
Here’s all you need to know about Matt Kenseth when it comes to the two road courses on the Sprint Cup schedule: one and one. That’s the combined number of top-10s he has in 22 career starts at Infineon and Watkins Glen, followed by the number of laps he’s led in those same 22 starts. That’s not just bad, it’s awful.
Predicted Number of Wins: 1
The Racing Geek’s Final Thought
Matt Kenseth’s 2011 season is going to go one of two ways. Either he’s rejuvenated by the improvements Roush Fenway has made on the aero and mechanical side of things and as a result becomes a darkhorse to win the title. Or, what we saw last year – some good mixed with a lot of bad – is what we see this year. Except this time, it’s not enough to make the Chase and leads to questions about his future with the only team he’s ever driven for.
Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media/Getty Images